All season long, against the Miami Heat or any other team, the various mantras were about the same for the veteran-laden Brooklyn Nets.
Try to keep things close. Mind the minutes. String things out with the bench. Attempt to steal a win late in the contest by utilizing the touch and collective smarts of a squad with a staggering amount of postseason experience.
Brooklyn tried as much on Tuesday evening, sticking with the defending champions for 2 1/2 quarters before eventually falling victim to what makes this Heat team so fearsome. The Heat prevailed 107-86 in Game 1 of the teams’ Eastern Conference semifinal matchup, erasing a four-game-long Brooklyn winning streak over the Heat that had some wondering if the savvy Nets had Miami’s number.
This certainly wasn’t the case in Game 1. Though the teams traded buckets, excellent spacing, sound extra passing and wily defensive moves for the first chunk of the game, the Heat eventually pulled away by extending themselves defensively, anticipating plays and cuts, while making things tough on the Nets' stars offensively when the offense bogged down into isolation sets. Net scorers Deron Williams (7-of-10 shooting, 17 points) and Joe Johnson (7-of-11 shooting, 17 points) certainly put up solid-enough stats and had their share of impressive flourishes, but a lack of contributions from first-year Nets vets Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce (3 of 10 from the floor, combined; Garnett failed to score in a playoff game for the first time in his illustrious career) and six first-quarter turnovers prevented Brooklyn from pulling away early.
Meanwhile, on the other end, the Heat studs just looked so, so good.
LeBron James was the catalyst, per usual, barking out orders on both ends, playing tough defense against all comers and working his way through seven different individual Nets defenders on his way to 22 points on 10-of-15 shooting. Dwyane Wade was less explosive, finishing with 14 points while making 7 of 13 shots, but he capably led the Heat bench crew when James sat, Chris Bosh contributed a needed double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds, and an extremely aggressive Ray Allen was the offensive force that put Miami over the top.
It’s been a relatively frustrating year for Allen. He offered a rather average 37.5 percent mark from long range during the regular season, his lowest mark since 2010, and he missed three of his eight 3-pointers and 14 of 19 shots overall in Miami’s first-round sweep of the Charlotte Bobcats. Allen was allowed all sorts of great looks in Game 1, though -- a result of Allen’s insistence on creating sound passing angles for his teammates to find him -- and he finished with 19 points, four rebounds and three assists in just 26 minutes, making 4 of 7 treys along the way.
It was all so business-like and composed, what with the ball whipping around, the Heat fringe players attempting to do significant things in both transition and off the ball in the half court, and with a sense of confidence we should have probably expected from the two-time defending champs. Yes, Brooklyn downed the Heat four times during the regular season, with three wins coming by one point and another in double overtime, but to watch the Heat play on Tuesday, you get the feeling the group never entertained the fleeting idea Brooklyn may have its number when it comes to matchups.
No, Miami orchestrated things, just as Garnett, Pierce, Johnson and even Williams used to do at their previous NBA stops. The Heat didn’t waste possessions, didn’t show any sort of hesitation as they dove into their various sets on both ends, and the Heat players were talking and communicating with each other throughout.
Just like those old Nets All-Stars used to do in years past. Though not for any teams in Brooklyn, of course.
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